Energesis Pharmaceuticals, Co-Founded by Sirtris Vet, Seeks to Tap Power of “Good Fat” in Fighting Obesity and Diabetes

It’s a case of good fat versus bad fat. Scientists have discovered recently that so-called brown fat, long known to be present in animals and human infants, might also play an important role in the metabolic functions of adult humans. Now Energesis Pharmaceuticals, a Boston-area startup, wants to use its founders’ knowledge of this phenomenon to develop drugs for obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

The startup, which has offices in Boston and Cambridge, MA, has garnered some recognition in recent weeks with a $50,000 award from the MassChallenge global startup competition in Boston. Brian Freeman, the firm’s co-founder and chief operating officer, says he is now on the hunt for more funding to finance the startup’s drug discovery efforts. The company wants to find drugs that boost the activity or mass of brown fat to treat diseases such as obesity.

Freeman, a practicing neurologist within the Veteran Affairs medical system, talked to me about his firm’s technology last week at the Cambridge startup incubator Dogpatch Labs, where the company has been granted temporary office space. He and his two co-founders—Olivier Boss, a former scientist at Sirtris Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, and Jean-Paul Giacobino, a professor emeritus at the University of Geneva Medical School in Switzerland—have been working on getting Energesis off the ground since 2009. (Boss worked at Sirtris, a developer of drugs for diabetes and other diseases of aging, when British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) bought the biotech for $720 million in June 2008.)

Freeman is in familiar territory at the new startup. He previously co-founded Zafgen, another firm focused on obesity treatments in Cambridge. He started Zafgen while he was a venture partner at Cambridge’s GreatPoint Ventures, which is a firm that focuses on starting emerging technology companies. Zafgen had raised about $30 million as of March from investors such as Third Rock Ventures in Boston and Atlas Venture in Cambridge. While Freeman handles the business end of Energesis, Boss and Giacobino serve as the resident experts on metabolic disorders. They also co-discovered the brown fat stem cells that form the basis of the startup’s drug-discovery technology.

Energesis might have a fresh line of attack on obesity and other metabolic disorders. The firm is focusing on the way the body … Next Page »

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